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Preview: K League Classic Round 31

If Round 29 was full of goals and drama, then Round 30 changed the narrative of the league. The title race has been blown open by the military who, in turn, added a twist to the relegation scrap at the foot of the table. Elsewhere, the split race has been revived thanks to a fantastic Pohang performance whilst FC Seoul are now closer to their rivals Suwon in fourth, a position that still may not provide Champions League football once the year is out. This weekend sees yet another derby in Incheon where the home side will hope to shock once more, a visit to Sangju from the high flying islanders, as well as a Jeonbuk side looking to get back to securing what they will feel is their title. All this and more, in our guide to Round 31.
(Photo Credit: sangjufc.co.kr)

Saturday 23rd September

Incheon United (11th) vs Suwon Bluewings (4th) 18:00

Incheon United come into this game unbeaten in their last six following a midweek goalless draw with Jeonnam Dragons. Despite falling into the relegation zone on goals scored, the home side should not be too worried as they have been playing well and should fare better in the run-in than Sangju, who sit immediately above them. Suwon Samsung Bluewings on the other hand saw their Champions League hopes take another blow as they lost to second place Jeju United in a game that will be remembered for a howler of an opening goal and a questionable red card. The home side are arguably the in-form team of the two coming into this, and could look to take their second derby scalp in a week if they can win on Saturday.

Our Suwon Bluewings columnist Scott Whitelock will preview this fixture in full here shortly.

Ulsan Hyundai (3rd) vs Jeonnam Dragons (8th) 18:00

Ulsan brought themselves back into title contention midweek after seeing off Daegu with relative ease, continuing their sublime form that has seen them only lose once in their last eleven. Jeonnam meanwhile have not tasted victory in their last six games in the league and could find it difficult to do so here, especially given how little they have left to play for. Anything less than a win for the visitors will see them confirmed into the bottom half of the table for the remainder of the campaign, but they face a very tough test in Ulsan.

Jeonnam Dragons columnists Aodan Halligan and Alex Meyer preview this fixture in full here.

Sangju Sangmu (10th) vs Jeju United (2nd) 19:00

From destined for the drop to seven points from the last available nine, Sangju Sangmu have defied media consensus by claiming two consecutive victories with two dramatic last minute winners, thereby just about clawing themselves out of the drop zone. In Jeju though, they face the strongest form side in the lead who now have the scent of blood wafting through their nostrils as they chase down a stumbling and wounded Jeonbuk. Having seen off third and fourth placed Ulsan and Suwon in their last two games, a trip to tenth placed Sangju should offer few sleepless nights for the islanders.

Prediction: Sangju Sangmu 1-3 Jeju United

Sunday 24th September

FC Seoul (5th) vs Pohang Steelers (7th) 15:10

Both these sides had been in relatively poor form prior to Wednesday, with both teams then surprisingly recording routs at their opponents’ expense. Whilst FC Seoul took advantage of defeating bottom-side Gwangju FC four goals to one, Pohang remarkably kept their split hopes alive by defeating 6th place Gangwon by five goals to two. Prior to that match, Steelers had won just once in their last eleven but could perhaps be buoyed by that convincing performance.

Our FC Seoul columnist Ryan Walters previews this match in full here.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Daegu FC (9th) 18:00

Top of the table Jeonbuk saw their title chase take a notable hit as they shockingly lost in the final minute to a resilient Sangju Sangmu, thus placing even more importance on this fixture. Despite the loss, Jeonbuk had looked strong prior to Wednesday and will be hoping to get back on track when Daegu roll into town. Daegu FC had also been in good form prior to the midweek fixtures, losing for the first time in six matches as they fell 3-1 to third place Ulsan. Daegu's defeat means they are back in amongst the thick of it in the relegation scrap, level on points with Incheon and Sangju, whereas Jeonbuk cannot afford to slip up with Jeju United hot on their tail. Unfortunately for the visitors, I imagine Jeonbuk will pull out a much improved performance as they look to regain their hold on the title.

Prediction: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Daegu FC

Gwangju FC (12th) vs Gangwon FC (6th) 19:00

Gwangju sit eleven points off the eleventh place relegation playoff and look all but destined to be plying their trade in the Challenge in 2018. Their bold summer transfers and recent managerial change appear to have failed in arresting their slide and now they could potentially be relegated before the league split if form continues. If there is any slither of hope for them to grasp on to, it would be that Gangwon, despite scoring eight times across their last three outings, have seemingly forgotten how to defend. The visitors have conceded twelve in those same matches, collecting just one point for their troubles. With their lofty pre-season ambitions of Champions League effectively dead, they will need to now make sure they do not drop further and fall below sixth before the league split in three rounds time. I still do not envisage Gwangju troubling Gangwon too much though, but they could scrape a well earned point if they are disciplined enough. Whether that would be enough to help them in avoiding the drop however is another matter entirely.

Prediction: Gwangju FC 1-1 Gangwon FC

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